The hit HBO series Game of Thrones was an international phenomenon. In case you were living under a rock during the 2010s, the fantasy drama depicted several family houses battling to sit atop the Iron Throne and control Westeros.
The largest and most prominent houses (Stark, Lannister, Tyrell, Martell, Baratheon, Greyjoy, Arryn) each controlled one of the Seven Kingdoms (North, Westerlands, Reach, Dorne, Stormlands, Iron Islands, Vale) that comprise Westeros.
Now, imagine the Big Ten is Westeros. Those seven houses and kingdoms are represented by the seven most historically prominent teams in the conference: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
But which team would represent each kingdom? Who embodies House Stark and the North? Which team could match the historical significance and precipitous decline of House Baratheon? Does any team truly represent the grit and annoyance of the Iron Islands?
*Warning: This article may feature Game of Thrones spoilers.*
House Stark (North) - Michigan
When Jim Harbaugh — the Prince who was promised — took over, it signified that winter was coming for the Big Ten. Although it took seven years, it proved the theory that chaos is a ladder.
From a fast start to his tenure to falling flat in 2020, Harbaugh and the team ascended from chaotic quicksand to reach the top of the conference.
No single win better personifies this rise and a return to prominence quite like Michigan beating Ohio State in 2021. As 42-27 flashed and hung on the scoreboards, the North remembered.
House Lannister (Westerlands) - Ohio State
Ohio State was the fourth-winningest program in the 2000s. Guided by head coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes won a national championship and were one of the most respected programs in the country.
House Lannister was a well-respected house, but once Tywin Lannister took control, the house grew to be feared throughout the Seven Kingdoms. When Urban Meyer took over Ohio State, the Buckeyes also elevated from respected to feared.
The Buckeyes were the second-winningest program of the 2010s, added another national title and never lost to Michigan under Meyer’s direction. One of the richest houses in the kingdom seemed to only get richer under Meyer’s control.
But now that Tywin is gone, House Lannister could be on the verge of collapse under new leadership.
House Baratheon (Stormlands) - Nebraska
A once great team, Nebraska dominated college football in the ‘90s. In that decade, the Cornhuskers averaged 10.8 wins per season. Similar to the Baratheons who once ruled Westeros, the Cornhuskers now find themselves scrambling for relevance in the decades following their reign.
Since 2000, Nebraska has averaged only 7.3 wins per season. The Cornhuskers logo and Baratheon sigil are synonymous with greatness but are now also synonymous with nostalgia and greatness past.
House Greyjoy (Iron Islands) - Michigan State
The Iron Islands are a blue-collar stalwart on the sea who believe that through an unyielding nature, they can one day rule the Seven Kingdoms. Much like head coach Mel Tucker’s chopping wood mantra, the Spartans believe they too can reach the pinnacle of the sport with sheer grit and ‘Spartan will.’
However, like the Iron Islands, the Spartans lack the talent to actually see this to fruition. Most of the time, Michigan State is discarded off to the side and merely fills the void of being a thorn in a contender’s side.
Merely presenting any of this to a fan of the green and white community will evoke rebuttals of history and cries of “2013!” See, like Baylon Greyjoy re-litigating the past despite ruling over a pile of rubble, the Spartans are hung up on slights and distracted from the present.
What is dead may never die, but what is left will lose by 20+ points to the Starks and Lannisters.
House Arryn (Vale) - Iowa
Much like the Knights of the Vale, Iowa is consistently excellent defensively and relevant about every five years. However, don’t sleep on the Hawkeyes. When you least expect it, Iowa can conjure up some Kinnick magic and swing an upset like the Battle of the Bastards.
Moreover, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferrentz is similar to Lord Robin Arryn. Instead of adapting his approach to prove he can competently run the program in the future, he rests on entitlement while running another two-yard dive.
House Tyrell (The Reach) - Penn State
House Tyrell is one of the most respected houses in the realm. Simultaneously a powerhouse, but never a true threat to the crown, Penn State has all of the pieces necessary to win, but seems to always stumble in its ascent.
Would it be surprising if Penn State won 11 games like last year? No. Would it be surprising if the Nittany Lions won seven games like 2021? No. Perpetually in the top middle half of the conference, Penn State is the gatekeeper to the elite tier of the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions will always be a respected force throughout the conference, but will still feel a notch below the top houses.
House Martell (Dorne) - Wisconsin
The Badgers are a formidable opponent but seem to be trending in the opposite direction as some of their rival houses. Wisconsin has not won the weaker Big Ten West division since 2019, and last season marked the first sub-.500 conference record since 2008. Like House Martell, Wisconsin seems content watching the other house battle instead of getting involved.
Madison, like Dorne, is an amazing place to visit, but is slowly becoming more well known as a destination of indulgence than one that houses a threat to the crown.
Notre Dame - Brotherhood Without Banners
The Fighting Irish occupy the territory at the heart of the conference but refuse to identify as an affiliate member. While they have clashed with the Starks in the past, Notre Dame is more interested in clashing with the Lannisters in the immediate future.